How WS and GSWS Helped Me | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
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How WS and GSWS Helped Me

Marianne Novy
GSWS Affiliated Faculty
Department of English

Since my first year at Pitt, and the 1971 meeting where hundreds of faculty voted to hire experts in five departments and establish a Women’s Studies Program, the WSP (later GSWS) has been an important part of my life. Through the program, I met faculty from many departments who were interested in teaching and learning about the exciting new scholarship on women and in supporting one another.

Analyses of gender relations from historians, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and anthropologists all contributed to my early writing and teaching about Shakespeare, and I learned about many of them from Pitt colleagues. WSP often sponsored lunch-time meetings in which faculty discussed research, curriculum, and teaching, and it provided a larger network for reading groups on feminist theory, criticism, and scholarship, and for connections to community activism. The WSP supported me intellectually as I developed new courses using feminist approaches not just to Shakespeare but also to women writers up to and including the twentieth century.  I eventually blended these interests in books about women writers’ transformations of Shakespeare’s plots, characters, themes, and language.

I took on the WS directorship in the early 1990s, with the aims of getting administration approval to hire a new director from outside the University and also starting a program to help make courses across the university more inclusive—in regard to gender and also to race. Both goals were met: Kathleen Blee, now Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, began her influential Pittsburgh career as WSP director, and the Faculty Diversity two-week seminar in May started a run that continued until 2014, when it was transformed into a series of shorter workshops.

My own most distinctive diversity topic is adoption, and writing my adoption criticism began as writing feminist criticism often does—identifying myths and stereotypes in literature.  I am an adoptee, I found my birthmother, and nowhere in the many literary representations of reunion did I find anything like our story. For my book Reading Adoption: Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama I chose an epigraph from Adrienne Rich: “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.” Once more, work by scholars in other fields helped enlarge my perspective and deepen my understanding, for example of the unjust treatment of women who give up their children and the frequent lack of education provided to adoptive parents. The WSP provided support to bring scholars to Pitt’s campus in 2007 for the second conference of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture, an interdisciplinary and international organization that I co-founded. WSP also helped support and publicize activities of the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies, which brought in Jackie Kay, Ann Fessler, and many other speakers, and films, such as Somewhere Between and Made in India, many of them of interest to the larger community outside the University as well.

In my most recent years at Pitt, my Shakespeare scholarship became more inclusive of the relations of gender with other diversity issues in my book Shakespeare and Outsiders. I have learned a lot from the new perspectives evident in the transformation of WSP into GSWSP. I transformed my course Adoption in Literature into Changing Families in Literature, Eng Lit 617, including material on gay- and trans-headed families, immigrant families, and multiracial families as well as adoptive families, and the response from students has been enthusiastic. GSWS will support the continuation of both PCAS and Changing Families. Even though no longer on the Pitt faculty, I will be around to see friends, provide resources and to learn from the new approaches that GSWS  will be exploring! 

 

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